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Friday, February 10, 2012

The Artist - Film Review

Up until now, the making of a silent film in the 21st century was unheard of; unless, by chance, you were taking an intro to film class or going to see an installation at the local, pretentious art gallery. The Artist has changed that, but not without risk. Sure the novelty of a modern era silent film will draw in a certain audience, but it is the sweet core of this film and its genuine charm that has sold this picture. The filmmakers had the challenge of entertaining audiences using a style of filmmaking that is more foreign to most audiences than even foreign films themselves – the silent film. The additional challenge was to emulate the look, style and techniques of the silent film-era films with enough authenticity that the story took center stage, not the technique. If the film was seen solely as a technical exercise, then it would be a bust. If it came across as a parody of the silent era, same result. Thankfully neither is the case.

Sure, as a technical exercise the film is a home run. It succeeds on every level, from the cinematography to the editing to the trim of the star's mustache. The film emulates the style of the silent era so well that if it was playing on TMC at 4 in the morning, the only thing that may give away that it was produced recently would be the familiar faces of John Goodman and James Cromwell. But it also succeeds at being a great piece of entertainment; a simple, sweet story of Hollywood's past.

The film, set in late 1920's Hollywood, captures the journey from silent film to talkies - a change that forever altered the way films were made, and in turn, the careers of our two lead actors. When the talkies arrive, Hollywood’s top box-office draw, George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), is oblivious to what their introduction means: a quick silence to his career. Contrarily, for our young and peppy extra, Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), the opposite is true – the talkies arrival means her star is ready to shine.

This is not "Inception." You will not need to discuss the meaning of the ending over late night beers at the pub. It is a delightful film with a story that will be enjoyed by a wide range of movie fans.
The film's performances are spectacular. There is a reason not everyone is an actor. The charisma and charm Dujardin and Bejo exude on screen is palpable and magnificent to watch. Dujardin's smile is like none I have ever seen - ear to ear, and just a flash provides more sparkle than one finds in the whole cast of "Twilight" (yes, even in the sun). And then there is the dog, Uggie, who manages to add even more laughs and pizzazz of his own - quite the feat for a dog. This film is about as well cast as they come.
This film truly pays homage to the silent era of film. The filmmakers (like Scorcese with "Hugo") must have a real love and appreciation for silent film to have created such an effective tribute. If anything, this film proves that silent film is not a part of film history that need be forgotten, but rather embraced. In a time when just about every film not only has sound, but also is in 3D, I cannot expect all audiences to embrace this film; the self-imposed restraints may simply be too much for some. In all likelihood, this will be a contentious film with many seeing it as a novelty act; but I know others will see it as I do, as something far more than just a gimmick – but a complete film.  

9 out of 10 stars

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